WEISER — The Weiser School District Board of Trustees is not planning to allow in-person community comment during its meeting this afternoon and the move has spurred a peaceful protest ahead of the meeting by concerned parents.
According to a news release sent to the newspaper on Tuesday night from the Weiser Chapter of Power2 Parent, the district did not give a reason for closing comment during the meeting. Indeed, a notice dated Oct. 7 on the district’s website, states that input would be accepted in writing until 3 p.m. Tuesday and that “trustees do not plan to provide for in-person comment input” during tonight’s meeting, however no reason is provided.
The newspaper has since found out it was due to the fact that so many people wanted to comment on the COVID-19 response plan for the current school year that is on tonight’s agenda. Allowing written comment provided for more people being able to weigh in, according to Superintendent Wade Wilson.
Today’s board meeting starts at 5:30 p.m.
According to the agenda, people can attend in-person, so long as observing social distancing or wearing a mask if unable to do so. Attendance is also available via Zoom. The agenda for the meeting tonight includes several action items for the trustees to consider, including a mass action lawsuit against Juul, the makers of e-cigarettes, and the COVID-19 response plan.
25 written comments submitted
The newspaper reached out to the Weiser School District to learn more about public comments.
Wilson said in a phone interview this morning that he has heard the district is not taking patron and parent input, stating that is not the case. The reason the board opted to go with written comment, he said, is because so many parents wanted to weigh in on the COVID-19 response plan.
At the cutoff time, the district had received about 25 written comments, Wilson said, adding that the board would never have allowed time for that many people to speak during a meeting. Rather, trustees typically allow one or two people to comment, he said.
The majority of comments received were regarding the COVID response plan, he said, with most centering on the school’s mask mandate. Wilson said of the comments submitted, about 60% were in favor of removing the mandate, with the other 40% in favor of keeping it.
The state of Idaho is allowing local school boards to control their individual response plan.
The decision to temporarily mandate masks was made shortly after school started and there was a spike in positive cases. The board is set to make a decision tonight on whether the mandate will continue.
“The week the mandate went into place, there were [COVID] cases identified in the district,” Wilson said adding that those were among students and teachers. “That’s just those who reported a positive case. I’m sure there were many more who didn’t get tested or tested positive and didn’t tell us.”
In September, the school had to close for couple of days as they didn’t have staff to keep it open.
“There were many unfilled positions, not for a day but for an extended period of time, due to COVID, and we had to close,” he said. “However, our goal was to keep schools open, and that is the reason behind the mask mandate.
Wilson noted that the data speaks for itself, showing a sharp decline in positive cases at the school since the mandate went into place.
“I want to be really clear: We are taking patron and parent input,” he said. “For this meeting it was just done in writing, so the board would have time to review the input.”
Wilson said it was the desire of Board Chairman Dr. Mark Pritchard to allow all parties to weigh in.
The Weiser Chapter of Power2 Parent’s peaceful rally will begin at 4:45 p.m. today at the Weiser School District Office, at 925 Pioneer Rd.
The parents’ group urges “all concerned parents, students, grandparents and local citizens to exercise our constitutional right of free speech,” reads the release.
In the news release from the group Jodi Johnson, a member, said they just want their voices to be heard.
“We want a seat at the table when it comes to our local school board making decisions that affect the lives and education of our children!”
The group noted that on Sept. 12, in a letter to parents and patrons, Superintendent Wade Wilson asked the parents for help and support during “this most difficult time,” as it relates to getting back to class amidst the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
“We are ready and willing to lend all our help and support, but we can’t do that unless we are given the chance to speak” said Narie Young, president of the Weiser parents’ group.